The short answer is no.
Yes, there’s a study that came out this summer, saying that the municipal tax burden on American Fork residents is the fourth or fifth highest in Utah. It used two different methodologies, which is why there are two different answers. Yes, AFCitizens and candidate Allen Simpson are passing out fliers around town touting that study.
But no, the study’s methodology is fatally flawed. And no, it’s not hard to explain.
The study calculated the tax burden on residents of various cities by adding the total property and sales tax revenues in the city, then dividing that amount by the number of residents in the city. See the problem? Among other things, it assumes that the bulk of sales tax revenue collected in American Fork is paid by residents of American Fork. A little common sense should be enough to make us reject those results. Why it wasn’t enough to make the folks who are quoting it in the current city council campaign reject the study is a fair question.
I’ve talked with American Fork City and Utah State officials, and none of them knows of a credible recent study of these things, but it is widely estimated that well more than half of the sales tax revenue collected in American Fork comes from shoppers who live elsewhere. The City’s largest single source of sales tax revenue, a large auto dealership — which collects customer addresses — has reported that about 90 percent of the sales tax it collects in American Fork comes from nonresidents.
This means at least two things: The study has grossly overreported American Fork residents’ tax burden. — unless, of course, you believe that American Forkers pay as much sales tax in other cities as nonresidents pay in ours. And the candidate who is passing out the flier, Allen Simpson, either doesn’t care about the facts (because the falsehood serves his political purposes) or is not disposed to dive deeply enough into them to understand them. Either way, we have here a temperament that may be poorly suited to service on the city council.
And this isn’t even one of the hard ones.
If you have a few minutes, read the study yourself, and decide for yourself. It’s a lot longer than this post, but it’s still not long.
There’s another problem with this part of the AFCitizens flier. It’s more technical. They’re mixing numbers from two studies — adding them together — and we have no way of knowing (did they check?) whether the two studies used compatible methodologies, similar definitions, the same time frame, etc. This is almost certain to lead to unreliable results.
I agree that some things are more costly in American Fork than they should be — water rates, for one thing. We’ll talk about those, and one faction’s misrepresentation of them, very soon.
Oh, and one more thing. If you’re so inclined, please post this graphic on Facebook or link to it on Twitter. Or e-mail it to your friends in American Fork. Or all of the above.
Help us spread the word. Because good people with bad data make bad decisions.
Learn before you vote.